As It Almost Was
Amherst College’s Monuments to Lord Jeffery
On view May 24–December 29, 2013
This exhibition, guest curated by Jeremy Simon (Class of 2013), unites for the first time two bronze models of proposed monumental equestrian statues showing Lord Jeffery Amherst (1717-97), the namesake of the town of Amherst, and by extension, of Amherst College.
(How Jeffery Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst, who had no connection with the town or college that now bear his name, came to be adopted as an unofficial mascot for Amherst College is a different story, told in fascinating detail in this informative blog post.)
Boston-based sculptor Bela Lyon Pratt (1867-1917) prepared the earlier model in 1913 at the separate instigations of Frank A. Hosmer (Class of 1875) and Benjamin Dwight Hyde (Class of 1894). Their interest in Jeffery Amherst was timely, following the 1906 publication of James Shelley Hamilton’s popular song “Lord Geoffrey Amherst.” But the proposal to erect an equestrian monument on the site of the Octagon ultimately came to naught. Pratt’s critically-acclaimed design is known today only from this tabletop bronze study, perhaps the work Hyde donated to the Psi Upsilon house, where an archival photograph shows a version of the sculpture displayed in a living room in 1937. The Mead Art Museum is grateful to Carolyn and Lindsey Echelbarger (Class of 1974, Parent 2004) for the generous loan of this rare master work from a leading artist of America's Gilded Age.
In 1930, Amherst-born sculptor Sidney Biehler Waugh (1904-63) revived the subject, proposing to make “a miniature equestrian figure of Lord Jeffery” for Ernest M. Whitcomb (Class of 1904), a co-founder of The Lord Jeffery Inn. In 1959, Waugh was still seeking support for a related project, to “tear down the Octagon and make a grand piazza on the top of the hill, with Jeffery facing the common.” The bronze Art Deco style cast shown here (commissioned by the Mead’s first director, Charles Morgan, in 1959) reproduces a plaster maquette possibly designed for Whitcomb.
Together, these little-known artworks offer a fascinating glimpse into an Amherst College campus landmark that almost was, showing a historical figure who never came here.
To learn more, please download the illustrated handout (PDF).
All are welcome to join Mead Director Elizabeth Barker and Head of Archives and Special Collections Mike Kelly for a gallery talk about the exhibition on Friday, October 4, 2013, at 4:30 p.m.